Some 25 percent of India is drying up and turning to desert, according to the country’s Environment Minister. This desertification is threatening India’s ability to feed its more than 1.2 billion citizens. Reuters reports:
India occupies just 2 percent of the world’s territory but is home to 17 percent of its population, leading to over-use of land and excessive grazing. Along with changing rainfall patterns, these are the main causes of desertification.
As is so often the case when the environment makes headlines these days, this is very worrying news. But just as climate change and overuse threaten future generations’ ability to feed themselves, new varieties of “biofortified” foods (in many cases genetically modified, too) promise to feed more, more nutritiously, with less. Spiegel reports on an exceptionally nutritious variety of millet that some Indian farmers are employing with great success:
[Dhanshakti pearl millet] has unusually high levels of iron and zinc—Indian researchers bred the plant to contain large amounts of these elements in a process they call “biofortification.” The grain is very nutritional,” says [one] Indian farmer, as his granddaughter Kavya jumps up and down in his lap. It’s also delicious, he adds. “Even the cattle like the pearl millet.” […]A UN Environment Programme report predicts that by 2050, agriculture will have to produce 70 percent more calories than today to feed an expected global population of 9.6 billion people. This “food gap” can only be closed, says Bouis, if we “make agriculture even more productive.”
It’s very easy to stir up Malthusian fears of a future in which humanity overextends itself, and one wonders if many in the environmental movement don’t take some perverse joy in sketching out that apocalyptic picture. Greens certainly don’t show the same tenacious spirit in describing workable solutions as they do when pointing out problems. GMOs will be crucial in feeding a growing global population, especially in areas affected by climate change. Time and time again science has shown these foods to be safe for human consumption. Yet stubborn green biases against so-called “frankenfoods” are still with us. The sooner we leave such Luddite foolishness in the past, the better-positioned we’ll be to confront the considerable environmental challenges ahead.